Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974

By James Hinton | Go to book overview
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In the aftermath of the railway strike of October 1919 the communists came to believe that any large strike would take on the character of a confrontation which would only be resolved either by the complete defeat of the unions, or by the establishment of soviet power.

Little came of this strategy, if only because the Government and the trade union leaders took pains not to present the revolutionaries with the general strike on which they had pinned their hopes. Black Friday and mounting unemployment undermined the plausibility of Direct Action. Meanwhile the substantial electoral advances achieved by the Labour Party in municipal elections in the Autumn of 1919, in parliamentary bye-elections and in the General Election of 1922 did much to restore faith in parliamentary action. In 1922, with 142 MPs, Labour became the second largest party in the House of Commons. A Labour Government was now in sight. When the militant Clydeside ILPers triumphed in the 1922 election they came down to London believing they represented the spearhead of a final assault on capitalist power. Ironically, their opening shot in the battle was to elect Ramsay MacDonald as leader of the Labour Party. The next few years were to deal as cruelly with parliamentarian illusions as the last few years had dealt with syndicalist ones. Nevertheless, the defeat of Labour's post-war offensive fell a long way short of cancelling out the gains of wartime. As the next chapter will argue, the war had initiated long-term changes in the structure of British society, the effect of which was greatly to enhance the capacity of organised labour to resist the disasters of the inter-war years.

Lloyd George, quoted in The Times, 4 June 1915.
Lord Elton, The Life of James Ramsay MacDonald, London 1939, pp. 252,276.
R. Harrison, "'The War Emergency Workers' National Committee'", in A. Briggs and J. Saville (eds), Essays in Labour History, vol. 2, London 1971, p. 222.
J. R. MacDonald, Socialism and Society, London 1905, p. 128.
A. Henderson, The Aims of Labour, London 1917, pp. 20, 24.
M. Woodhouse, "'Marxism and Stalinism in Britain, 1920-26'", Fourth International, July 1967, p. 68.
J. Hinton, The First Shop Stewards' Movement, London 1973, p. 119.
The Call, 3 August 1916.
TUC Congress Report, 1919, p. 296.


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Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974


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